Duo count on African solutions to drive digital learning

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021 00:00 |
Zydii, co-founders, Joyce Mbaya and Rhoda King’ori. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

Harriet James @harriet@86jim

When Joyce Mbaya met Rhoda King’ori for the first time, she was a fresh graduate who had come to their company, GIBÉBÉ, a social enterprise for learning and development, as an intern.

Shortly after, Rhoda rose the ranks and became the project coordinator in 2015.

Little did she know they will have a lifelong partnership, one that will create an innovation that will take learning to higher level.  

In 2016, the duo began developing an end-to-end digital learning solution for African businesses to enable them train their employees or members via digital courses using both online and offline channels (including SMS).  In 2017, the platform was launched; they called it Zydii.

Rhoda studied International relations at USIU class of 2014 and Joyce studied Computer Science and Math at the University of Central Missouri class of 2006 and has had her hands on technology. 

“I have worked with various organisations and youth in East Africa to enable them achieve success through the GIBÉBÉ framework.

Zydii is the ultimate combination of my passion and gifts in empowerment and technology,” says Joyce.

The platform gives its subscribers access to courses on five key areas: career growth, business growth, technology, parenting and family and self-improvement.  

“Our secret sauce is providing “local for local”, relatable and practical courses for our African audience.

Our courses are mainly taught by African experts. We believe every African deserves to live their best life and we can all learn from our own people who have made it,” explains Rhoda.

Relatable content

One can take the courses on any device: desktop, mobile and use mobile money such as M-Pesa among others to purchase a course and start learning. So far, over 8,000 individuals and more than 5,000 MSMEs have benefited.

“People sign onto Zydii because they cannot find that training anywhere else or rather cannot find content that is relatable to them.

Courses offered are high quality, engaging and by Africans for Africans,” adds Rhoda. 

Launching a platform business has not been a bed of roses. Top on the list of challenges has been finding capital. 

“We bootstrapped and used our own money to develop and launch the platform; it was not easy.

We never had the full amount when we started and had to work with a very lean approach, step by step to build up the business.

Once we had traction we were able to raise a pre-seed funding round in 2019.

This year, we have resumed fundraising for our next round,” Joyce says.

Another challenge has been finding content for the site. While the two had already created an amazing platform, they began without a product in hand. 

“We expected to partner with video production companies to develop video courses, but most were not willing to work with us strategically.

They wanted us to pay a retainer. We had to find an affordable way to execute on production and do it ourselves.

Now, this is one of the things that has given us an edge and we have developed more than 100 courses and 1,000 lessons of great quality while being cost efficient,” Joyce adds. 

They also had difficulties in shifting perceptions and assisting people to see digital learning as the norm.

Covid-19 came as a blessing in disguise as it fast tracked acceptance of digital ways to do things.

They witnessed an immediate spike in traffic and individuals signing up for courses.

However, the challenge came in the revenue bit since their primary source comes from Busines to Business sales and from March to July during  lockdown, there was a freeze in payments and contracts as businesses waited to see if the pandemic would simply pass.

The company ran into serious cash flow challenges, and had to let go of part of their team.

Digital learning paramount

 “Towards the end of the year things turned around as people finally came to terms with the fact that digital learning is not an option, but a necessity.

Businesses needed to go digital and we were positioned and experienced to help them achieve this, through digitising their training content and providing digital channels for their staff and members to learn remotely.

In the last quarter of 2020 we experienced over 600 per cent growth. We are grateful we survived given that so many other businesses had to close down,” says Joyce. 

 In 2018, the duo registered for the Women in Tech (WIT) programme, a partnership by Standard Chartered and Strathmore University, under which they were the first cohort.

Winning an award reinforced their confidence in their product and proved that their idea was solid.

It opened up the door for the two to pitch for and receive pre-seed funding from Kepple Ventures Africa.

More on Lifestyle